By Carl Joseph
Ministry of Education officials have confirmed that the acting principal of Antigua State College (ASC), Na-Ajele Williams-Buffonge, has officially been put on “forced special administrative leave” as of Monday.
This comes just after two months of her being appointed to the post by the Public Service Commission (PSC), as she succeeded then principal Hyram Forde.
The reason given for the acting principal’s leave was described to Observer as “insubordination” and a “rift” between Williams-Buffonge and Minister of Education Michael Browne.
Tensions reportedly have been high between the two since the acting principal’s appointment.
At the heart of this latest row is the alleged refusal of Williams-Buffonge to sign off on a directive by Browne, causing an investigation to be initiated.
Meanwhile, the acting principal’s secretary has been transferred from the college to assume duties at Buckleys Primary School.
A February 24 letter from the ministry’s permanent secretary, Rosa Greenaway, addressed to James and leaked to Observer, states, “The Ministry of Education through inter-departmental arrangement has decided to assign you to perform duties at the Buckleys Primary School with effect from Monday 24th February, 2020 until further notice.”
Citing the pending investigation into the matter, when contacted by Observer, both Willims-Buffonge and James declined to comment on the matter on the advice of their respective legal counsels.
Calls to the permanent secretary have gone unanswered, thus far.
This is the second such time the minister has had a run-in with a high-level official within the sector.
In 2014, then Executive Secretary of the Board of Education D. Gisele Isaac filed a civil suit against Minister Browne and Attorney General Steadroy Benjamin after she was suspended and then constructively dismissed from her post that year.
At the time Browne told his Cabinet colleagues that Isaac had flouted his instructions.
Browne had made requests for specific information pertaining to the salaries of Board of Education employees.
Neither the then managers nor Isaac apparently felt comfortable with providing such confidential information to the minister’s secretariat, and Isaac was subsequently described as being insubordinate.
Isaac later was suspended from the position and, on her return to work one month later, she was prevented from entering her office. As a result, Isaac filed a fixed date claim, together with an affidavit in support, seeking a number of reliefs in the form of declaration, damages and costs against the Attorney General and the minister.
That case will be heard on March 20, almost two years after the Privy Council upheld the decisions of the lower courts to allow her to bring her case against the two Cabinet members.